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House of Commons

Friday 18 November 1994

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


European Communities (Finance)

Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Hurd, Mr. Secretary Heseltine, Mr. William Waldegrave, Mr. Secretary Portillo, Mr. Jonathan Aitken, Sir George Young, Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory, Mr. Anthony Nelson and Mr. David Davis, presented a Bill to amend the definition of "the Treaties" and "the Community Treaties" in section 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 so as to include the decision of 31st October 1994 of the Council on the Communities' system of own resources and so as to remove a spent provision: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 1.]

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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Third Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:-- Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.--[ Mr. Dunn .]

Question again proposed.

Home Affairs and Environment

9.34 am

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): I welcome the opportunity of this debate on the Loyal Address to highlight both the Government's achievements on law and order over the past year and our plans for the future.

At the outset of the debate, I want to extend the warmest welcome to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) in his new responsibilities. We have crossed swords in the past on the environment and I look forward to our forthcoming tussles on law and order. I pay this tribute to the hon. Gentleman: his particular political skills are especially suited to the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that he has every opportunity to use them there for many years to come.

This year's legislative programme contains important Bills dealing with criminal justice and the environment. The first is a Bill to create a new criminal cases review body, as the Royal Commission on criminal justice recommended. I hope very much that we can carry through that important measure with all-party support. The new body will be independent of both Government and the courts. It will investigate alleged miscarriages of justice and, when necessary, refer them to the court for review. The Bill will set out the criteria for referral to the court. The new body will have powers to commission investigations by the police and others, and to gain access to relevant material. I should stress that the new body will actively supervise all such investigations. It will keep applicants informed of progress on their cases and provide them with full explanations when it is decided not to refer cases to the court.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I was glad to hear that the new body will have the power to commission investigations by others as well as the police. Will the Home Secretary elaborate on that point?

Mr. Howard: Well, it will depend. We shall publish details as soon as we can. The hon. Gentleman, who has taken a long interest in those matters over a period of years, will have looked carefully at the consultation document that we issued last year. When the investigation was originally conducted by the police, the investigation under the supervision of the new body will be carried out by the police, although not necessarily by the same force that carried out the original investigation. When the original investigation was carried out by customs officers,

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for instance, it will normally be appropriate for customs officers to carry out any further investigation, again under the supervision of the review body.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will introduce an Environmental Agencies Bill to improve, in particular, the effectiveness of our system of pollution control. As he was intimately involved in working up those proposals when I was Secretary of State for the Environment, I am delighted that my right hon. Friend is now bringing them to fruition.

From the moment when I became Home Secretary, I was determined to challenge the politically correct orthodoxies that too many people in prominent positions have held for far too long: the attitude that criminals are not responsible for what they do; that punishment is a dirty word; and that protection of the public comes a long way down the list of priorities. My task is to provide our country with the system of criminal justice for which it yearns, and to challenge and overcome those deep-seated and deeply entrenched attitudes. It is abundantly clear that those attitudes are deeply entrenched on the Opposition Benches.

When I proposed my 27-point plan in the autumn of last year, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) dismissed it as a "gimmick". But the then chairman of the Police Federation knew better. He described it as "first class" and

"a tremendous help in the fight against crime".

There could be no clearer example of the gulf between the parties than that.

Of course, the Opposition recognised that their views were completely out of tune with the public mood, so they resorted to a shameless attempt to camouflage those views during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. The dilemma was at its most acute for the right hon. Member for Sedgefield, who had adjusted his party's rhetoric on law and order. "Tough on crime" was the new pitch, yet he knew perfectly well that his party simply did not agree with him.

In October, I received a letter from the Norwich Labour party, which makes my point:

"This General Committee strongly opposes the Criminal Justice Bill."

It continued:

"The Criminal Justice Bill . . . represents a direct attack on the human and civil rights of working people."

It concluded:

"This General Committee demand that the Criminal Justice Bill be withdrawn."

That is the authentic voice of the Labour party.

The right hon. Member for Sedgefield was thus caught on the horns of a dilemma. For months he dithered, then he decided--to abstain. That is the real message from the Labour party on crime--abstain on crime; abstain on the causes of crime.

The moment that the Bill left the Chamber and went into Committee, of course, the true intentions of the Labour party became clear. As usual, the Liberal Democrats were its allies. On issue after issue, both parties sought to obstruct, undermine and wreck the central provisions of what is now the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

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I shall take but two examples. First, the Act gives the courts powers to detain persistent juvenile offenders and to give the public the protection that they need. Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour said that they supported that, yet they both attempted to dilute the power drastically in Committee and to remove it altogether in another place, by removing clause 1 of the Bill.

Secondly, on the right of silence--

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Why did the right hon. and learned Gentleman resist the Lords amendments that would have ensured that secure training orders could be put into place straight away, as they could have been applied in local authority facilities before private facilities were set up?

Mr. Howard: That would not have been the effect of the Lords amendment. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. He has come to them relatively recently. Had he been present for our debates on such matters during the past year or so, he would realise that the track record of local authorities in providing that accommodation leaves a great deal to be desired. Local authorities throughout the country --the most recent case was in the north-east and I cited that example when we last debated those matters--absolutely failed to live up to the commitments that they had made to make the accommodation available, so I fear that the right hon. Gentleman's question is based on an entirely false premise.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North): The Home Secretary will be aware that about a dozen youngsters under the age of 16 are in Hull prison because there is no secure accommodation for them. Secure accommodation on Humberside, which led the country, is crowded. What extra facilities and money will he give to local authorities so that they can fulfil their statutory duties?

Mr. Howard: As the hon. Gentleman knows, or should know, that was made public some time ago. We set out our plans clearly--Home Office and Department of Health plans--on financing the provision of local authority secure accommodation, but we believe that a separate regime needs to be provided for persistent young offenders. That is why we have provided a secure training order and will provide secure training centres.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): Does the Home Secretary recall that in February 1991 his predecessor responded to campaigns by many people, including many Opposition Members, and promised to provide precisely those places to which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) referred? That would have ended the scandal of youngsters aged 15 and 16 being held in adult prisons because there was nowhere else for them to be held. The Government's failure to provide funds in the intervening years and to support local authority requests has resulted in the continuation of that scandal.

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman is wrong in the way that the Labour party is often wrong. Labour Members say that local authorities--not central Government--should be given certain responsibilities. Then the local authorities, especially those under the control of Labour

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and the Liberal Democrats, fail to discharge those responsibilities and, with the gall that the hon. Gentleman just displayed, blame the Government.

It is the responsibility of local authorities to provide the accommodation. During the months that we have debated such matters in the House, well- documented examples have been produced. Leicestershire was one example; I cited the local authorities in the north-east and gave the House chapter and verse when we last discussed the matter. Although central Government have made painstaking efforts to encourage local authorities to provide the accommodation, they have persistently failed to do so, especially when under Labour and Liberal Democrat control. That is the truth of the matter and it is about time that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) acknowledged it.

Mr. Michael: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made those assertions in the past. They are as untrue now as when he first made them. Will he examine the record again and admit to the House that what he said was not true, local authorities have not been provided with the resources, their applications have been frustrated by central Government and it is central Government's failure to keep a promise made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessor in 1991 that is the real scandal?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman is talking twaddle. On the last occasion that we looked into the matter, when we discussed the part played by those authorities in the north-east, I gave the House chapter and verse. I gave the dates of meetings on the matter, the precise date of the commitment made by those local authorities and the date of the meeting when they reneged on that commitment. That is all on record in Hansard . Since that debate, we have not heard a peep out of the hon. Gentleman or any of his hon. Friends to challenge those precise facts and details, which were placed on record at that time.

Mr. McNamara: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howard: I must make progress, but I shall give way once more.

Mr. McNamara: I was listening to that interesting exchange. We have done all those things on Humberside and we have all that accommodation, but we still have the same problem and young people under the age of 16 are still going to prison. When will we get the money to expand our facilities, so that we are able to meet our statutory requirements?

Mr. Howard: I answered that question. We made clear the arrangements that are in hand to provide extra finance from the Home Office and the Department of Health to ensure that that accommodation is made available.

The right to silence is the second example. I have lost count of the number of times when ordinary policemen have told me, "Please do something about the right to silence." They are sick and tired of professional criminals smirking in the interview room, secure in the knowledge that the jury will never find out that they refused to answer questions that an innocent person would certainly have answered.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act provides freedom of information for juries. The innocent have nothing to fear from the changes. The guilty may well

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have cause to regret them--and so they should. I want the guilty to be convicted and I am prepared to take the necessary action to achieve that. The message from the Opposition parties is, "Carry on clamming up."

Mr. Mullin: As I pointed out before, police officers charged with perverting the course of justice are the people who use the right to silence most regularly.

Mr. Howard: If there were any truth in the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I should expect him to be one of the greatest enthusiasts for the change that I am proposing. I look forward to him reflecting on that question and telling the House later, if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, that he has changed his position and unreservedly welcomes that measure in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

Those attacks were not the only ones to be made on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. During its passage, demonstrations took place to protest against its provisions. As has become all too common, a violent fringe used those legitimate demonstrations--the cover of peaceful protest--to wage war on the police. Just as predictably, a Labour Member of Parliament blamed the violence on the police. Indeed, when the violent demonstrators laid siege to the House, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) said:

"Parliament deserves to be laid siege to over this Bill." What an utterly disgraceful remark. Yet we heard not a peep from the Leader of the Opposition. There was no rebuke or disclaimer; only an embarrassed silence.

All the efforts of the Opposition parties have miserably failed. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act is now on the statute book, entire and intact. [Interruption.] Yes, it is. It is as we wanted it to be on the statute book.

I recognise that there is a great deal more to be done. Early in the new year, I shall publish a working paper setting out the framework of our policy on law and order. At its heart will be a resounding reaffirmation of the simple principle that proper punishment should follow crime as surely as night follows day. That is why I have embarked on a fundamental review of the place of punishment in our criminal justice system.

I started with cautions. One of the reasons why criminals were not being brought to justice through the courts was that too many were not reaching the courts at all, even after they had been apprehended. They were receiving only a caution from the police. Of those cautioned or convicted for indictable offences in 1993, more than two fifths--in fact, 41 per cent.--were cautioned. And that, I repeat, was for indictable offences. Sometimes offenders were not brought before the court until they had been caught four or five times. The link between crime and punishment had become attenuated to a totally unacceptable extent.

The new circular on cautioning that I have issued will ensure that serious offenders, and those who ignore a caution and reoffend, can expect to be brought to court. Cautioning continues to have its place. For many first offenders, it works. But fresh guidance was needed, to ensure that discretion was not used in unacceptable ways. In the nine months following the issue of draft guidance, there were 14,000 fewer cautions than in the same period last year.

Inevitably, most offenders who receive punishment are punished in the community. I have been concerned to ensure that the public really do have confidence in the

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adequacy of community sentences. I have already published new national standards for consultation, and they will be introduced in their final form early in the new year. The public do not want offenders sent on holiday, either at home or abroad, as part of a sentence from the court. They want offenders to repay their debt to society. The new standards reflect the fact that there will and should be a range of different activities for different types of offender. But they make it quite clear that no activities should simply be dressed-up forms of recreation. There is work--hard work--to be done in communities. I want to see offenders doing that work. They should put something back into the community as reparation for the crimes that they have committed.

However, the new national standards will not be enough on their own. Early next year I shall publish a Green Paper that will suggest ways in which the courts can be given far more influence on the implementation of the community sentences that they pass. The first essential is to ensure that local probation services have available a full range of activities so that the court is given as much flexibility as possible. The second is to allow courts to specify in greater detail precisely what offenders should be required to do. Those vital reforms to the system of community punishment will take time to introduce, but I believe that they will do much to re- establish public confidence in the validity of the system. However successful we are in strengthening community sentences, prison will always play a vital part in the criminal justice system. It is the only punishment suitable for serious offenders and for many repeat offenders. Many victims of serious crimes want reassurance that the perpetrators are safely behind bars for a lengthy period so that those victims can rebuild their shattered lives.

Prison brings other benefits. While inside prison, offenders cannot commit further crimes against the community and many offenders are put off from committing further offences by the threat of prison. So for many reasons, prison can indeed be said to work. I want it to more effective still in the future, and that is why I am proposing far-reaching changes to our prison regime.

First is security. The safety of the public and of prison staff must be paramount. I have always made it clear that what happened at Whitemoor was both extremely serious and totally unacceptable. That is why I appointed Sir John Woodcock, a distinguished former chief inspector of constabulary, to carry out an independent and thorough inquiry into exactly what happened. I want to learn all the lessons which can be learned, so that everything that can be done is done to make sure that nothing like it ever happens again.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn): Has the Home Secretary received the report on Whitemoor prison, and when will it be made available to the House?

Mr. Howard: I have not yet received the report. I shall make it available to the House as soon as I reasonably can. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the matter is entirely out of my hands. It is an independent inquiry, conducted by Sir John Woodcock. It is important that he has the time that he needs to carry out the thorough and full investigation to which I have just referred.

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If prison is to be effective and if public confidence in our prisons is to be restored, action is required in three other areas. The first is temporary prison leave. As the House will know, I have been conducting a thorough review of the system of leave from prisons. In too many cases, the system has been abused. I have come to the conclusion that it needs to be tightened up. I can announce to the House today changes in the system that are likely to lead to a reduction of about 40 per cent. in the amount of leave granted. I have placed full details of the new arrangements in the Library. The new system will have a number of important features. First, with immediate effect, a much more rigorous risk assessment will be carried out before any temporary release is permitted. The safety of the public must be paramount. Secondly, there will be no automatic right to temporary release, which will be permitted only in certain carefully prescribed circumstances: first, leave on specified compassionate grounds; secondly, leave towards the end of a sentence to assist prisoners in reintegrating into the community; and finally, leave for training, education or work experience designed to help in prisoner rehabilitation. That form of leave will not be available to the most dangerous prisoners--those in category A or B prisons--and will be considered only when suitable courses are not available within the prison. My longer-term objective will be to restrict releases in that category to an absolute minimum by providing more facilities inside prison.

Thirdly, I am very disturbed by the number of occasions on which prisoners abscond when on temporary release. I have therefore decided to introduce a new offence designed to make breaches of licence while on temporary prison leave a criminal offence for the first time. Prison governors will have an overriding duty, in considering any release, not only to ensure the safety of the public but to maintain public confidence in the prison system. The necessary training for the full introduction of the new arrangements will be completed early next year. I intend to review the new system by the end of next year to see whether any further changes are needed.

The second area for action is prison conditions. As I have said many times, basic conditions in prison should be decent but austere. I attach great importance to both. That is why slopping out has been virtually phased out. That is why there are no prisoners three to a cell designed for one, when just seven years ago there were over 5, 000 of them. But austerity matters, too. There has been a great deal of public anger at reports of lax conditions and privileges handed out as a matter of course. I share that anger. So I shall soon announce a new system of privileges and sanctions. Under that new system, privileges will have to be earned by good behaviour and will be removed for bad behaviour. I believe that the new system will be a powerful influence for change for the better in our prisons.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent): Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the qualifications required to be a prison officer, and the training that officers receive when they are first employed, are sufficient to achieve the rising standards that we all seek in our prisons? Will he reflect on the fact that, time and again, reports on prisons suggest that they are disgracefully dirty? A work force is

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there that should surely be given pride in itself and in its accommodation by having much higher standards of cleanliness enjoined upon it.

Mr. Howard: On the first of my hon. Friend's points, it is important that, as we move towards a new regime, the training required to enable that regime to be implemented effectively is given to prison officers. I acknowledge that additional training will be required.

Cleanliness of prisons is always remarked on by the chief inspector of prisons in his reports. Sometimes he commends a prison for its cleanliness; on other occasions, as my hon. Friend rightly says, he will criticise a prison for lack of cleanliness. I very much agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend's remarks and I hope that there will be continued improvement in that area.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North): All the announcements that my right hon. and learned Friend is making today will be welcomed by my constituents, who want more punishment and less forgiveness for crime. One suspects, however, that many of those ideas do not have the support of many of the people in the services that my right hon. and learned Friend is discussing. For example, the announcement on temporary prison leave was leaked in The Guardian this morning in advance of the announcement to the House. Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that there will be an inquiry into the leak, and that he will root out those in the prison service who do not support those reforms?

Mr. Howard: I can confirm that there will be an inquiry into the leak. As for my hon. Friend's general point, I think that there is general understanding in the prison service-- [Interruption.] I note that this is a matter for jesting on the Opposition Front Bench--important questions about conditions in our prisons and about the extent to which austere regimes are run there are apparently matters for jest among Opposition Front Benchers. The country will take due note of their reaction.

To answer my hon. Friend again: I am laying down the policy that the prison service will follow, and the prison service accepts that it will follow that policy.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge): Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that manning levels in the prison service are adequate to cope with the changes? Has he any thoughts about the sort of people who are recruited to the prison service? Could more be done to bring in people who have served in the armed forces, who are likely to bring to the service the new dimension that would give my right hon. and learned Friend the positive reaction that he seeks?

Mr. Howard: I understand and have some sympathy with that point. The ratio of prison officers to prisoners has improved steadily and dramatically in recent years. I do not think that there can be any reasonable concern over general manning levels. I have a good deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend's point about the background from which new prison officers could be recruited.

I come finally in this section to drugs and prisons. There is no doubt that there is far too much drug taking in our prisons. I am determined to do all that I can to deal with the problem. That is why I shall shortly be introducing new prison rules, made under the new powers in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which will require prisoners to provide urine samples for drug

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testing. I hope to announce the introduction of a new regime of drug testing shortly, and I have no doubt that it will make a major contribution to dealing with that serious problem.

Of course, drugs are a problem not just in prisons. They are a problem throughout society, and the Government have always recognised that. That is why we have acted to increase the maximum sentence for trafficking in hard drugs to life imprisonment, and it is why we introduced tough powers to seize drug traffickers' assets. But if we are to tackle the problem effectively, we need a comprehensive approach--in the producer countries, at the ports, in the schools and on the streets. We need education, treatment and tough punishment for pushers. All those are being pursued.

Last month my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gave that effort fresh impetus with the publication of the Government's new strategy document. I can assure the House that we shall continue the campaign unrelentingly. We know just how destructive drug taking is for our whole society.

There should be no doubt at all about the determination of the Government in one respect: legalisation of drugs is certainly not the answer. It may be the view of the Liberal Democrat party, but it is not the view of the public or of the police, and it is most emphatically not my view.

Mr. Beith: I hope that the Home Secretary will not forget, however, that it was the view of the current Chief Secretary to the Treasury, which means that it must be a matter of legitimate debate. As to whether cannabis might be legalised, the best solution is probably the one that we have advanced, which is to get a royal commission to consider aspects of drug policy, including whether legalising the possession of cannabis--now decreasingly an act leading to convictions--would be a dangerous signal leading to further drug taking, or would be helpful.

Mr. Howard: Many matters are legitimate subjects for debate. That does not get away from the fact that it was the right hon. Gentleman's party conference that voted to legalise cannabis. I have no doubt that he is deeply embarrassed by that, but such was the view of his party.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) rose --

Mr. Howard: It is also the hon. Gentleman's view, I think.

Mr. Banks: I apologise for missing the earlier part of the Home Secretary's speech, but how does he see the fact that about two thirds of all police forces are handing out large numbers of adult cautions to those found in possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use? In the Metropolitan police area, about 5,800 such cautions were issued last year, so clearly the police feel differently about the issue.

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman's conclusion does not remotely follow from his premise. Had he been here earlier, he would have heard me refer to the guidance that I have issued on cautioning. That guidance applies to all offences, in just the same way as it applies to offences of possession of cannabis. The guidance recognises that it will often be appropriate, for a first offence, that a caution be administered. That is what is happening in the Metropolitan police area and elsewhere. It happens for

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offences of possession of drugs and for other offences. The guidance also makes it clear, however, that repeat offences should not be the subject of cautions, and the police are implementing the guidance. So the possession of drugs is not being treated differently from other offences.

Many criminals start on and persist in a life of crime because they calculate, sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously, that the risks of crime are small in relation to the potential rewards. I have taken a number of steps to increase the risks that they run, but I believe that it is right that action should also be taken to reduce the rewards. That is why I propose that the existing powers to confiscate the proceeds of crime should be greatly strengthened, as has already been done for drug trafficking and terrorism. For criminals who engage in a series of crimes, the courts will be able to assume that all property that has passed through a defendant's hands in the previous six years came from crime and will be able to confiscate its value. It will no longer be possible to avoid paying the confiscation order by serving a term of imprisonment in default. I very much hope that a private Member's Bill can be used this Session to introduce those important measures. We shall give every help in its drafting. I hope and expect that it will receive widespread support so that it can be on the statute book as soon as possible.

However successful we are in combating crime, the victim will always be with us. It is essential that we have a properly funded, efficient method of marking society's concern at injuries to the victims of violent crime. By any standards, we have such a system. It is and will remain the most generous in the world. Indeed, last year more than a third of all compensation paid out by state schemes across the world was made available to British victims of crime. The new scheme that we have introduced will remain extremely generous by any international comparison. Under its provisions, 60 per cent. of all beneficiaries will get as much as or more than they got under the old scheme. But it is a matter of fact that costs under the old system were likely to have trebled to £500 million a year by the year 2000--double the likely cost at that time of the new scheme. As usual, the Labour party has tried to have it both ways. It attacks the new scheme but refuses to say whether it would restore the old. As the House knows, the procedures that were followed in the introduction of the new scheme have been challenged in the courts. The divisional court ruled in our favour and last week the Court of Appeal ruled by a majority against us. We were given leave to appeal and we await the result of the final judgment of the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords.

We have also helped victims in other ways. The Government gave Victim Support funding for the first time, and that funding has grown rapidly to its current level of £10 million. That will enable Victim Support to provide new arrangements in all Crown courts by the end of next year designed to make appearing in court as a witness less of an ordeal. By abolishing old-style committal proceedings, as we have done in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, we shall ensure that victims are spared unnecessary court appearances.

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I am also acting to make sure that pre- sentence reports include a section that takes account of the effect of the crime on the victim. For victims of serious crimes, reassurance is best provided by the knowledge that the perpetrator is behind bars and that victims' concerns will be taken into account in any decisions to grant release on temporary licence. That is why I intend to set up a telephone hot line from next month to allow victims to communicate their fears about an inmate to the governor of the prison concerned. In all those ways, the Government are demonstrating by their actions their determination to safeguard the interests of victims, and we shall continue to do that.

Mr. Beith: How will victims know that a release is being considered?

Mr. Howard: They do not need to know that. All that a victim needs to communicate is his concern. The only purpose of the hot line is to enable victims to register their concern with the prison authorities. At the moment, victims complain that when they wish to pass information to prison authorities they do not know which number to ring and are often passed from pillar to post and given a series of telephone numbers. It is difficult for them to get the information to the relevant people. The only purpose, limited but important, of the hot line is to enable victims to transmit concerns to the prison authorities who will take them into account.

Victims can register their concern at the outset, on sentencing. If the governor is later considering the issue of temporary release, he will see that concern and note that it is some years old. That will give him the opportunity to ask for checks to see whether the concern remains and whether the victim still lives in the same place. It is a method of ensuring that information about victims' concerns reaches the relevant authorities.

Of course, the best way of helping victims is by reducing their number. The latest figures clearly show that the police are achieving some success in that direction. There has been a record fall in recorded crime generally; burglaries are down by well over 100,000; and car thefts are down by over 130,000. There are a number of reasons for that, such as the greater use of closed-circuit television and improved car and household security.

I pay tribute to the police for their increasing success in targeting known criminals. Rather than waiting for a crime to be committed, by which time the trail may have gone cold, the police are increasingly pro-active. They are taking the initiative, taking the fight to the criminal and turning the tide, and in that they deserve and need all our support.

In my first speech in the House as Home Secretary I laid great stress on the importance of building the strongest possible partnership between the police and the public. Without that, we cannot hope to achieve what is possible in preventing crime and bringing criminals to justice. In September, I launched a new campaign, "Partners against Crime", which is designed to take matters further. It has three components, the first of which is neighbourhood watch. There are now 130,000 schemes across the country covering 5 million households, and Crime Concern has set a new target of 200,000 covering 7.5 million households by the end of 1996.

The second component of the campaign relates to neighbourhood constables. Special constables have an indispensable role in helping the police, and I have raised

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the recruitment target to 30,000 by the end of 1996. Until now, they have not always been able to request that they serve in their own communities, but chief police officers have agreed that that restriction should be removed. In future, an increasing number of areas will be served by their own neighbourhood constables who will have all the powers of police constables.

The third component is street watch. At Glenfield near Leicester, where the scheme already exists, it has been found that it not only helps to prevent crime, but directly strengthens the sense of community spirit. As Dr. Ken Russell, a former parish councillor, put it:

"We found people talking to each other who had never spoken before. There were instances of people who fell out and never spoke to each other who now do. Its achievement in terms of community spirit is tremendous."

[Interruption.] We note the attitude of Labour Members to real attempts by the community to deal with crime. Jacqueline Price, the local neighbourhood watch co-ordinator, added:

"Caring for each other comes naturally once the scheme is set up. The co- ordinator becomes aware of the vulnerable and the elderly in the road."

It is typical of the Labour party that it should pour scorn on that initiative by volunteers. But it supports an initiative in Sedgefield involving paid wardens merely because it is controlled by the local council. There could be no clearer evidence of the gulf between our two parties.

During the past year, the Government have successfully piloted on to the statute book what is by any standards one of the most far-reaching pieces of criminal justice legislation since the war. The messages contained in that legislation will enhance the ability of the criminal justice system to redress crime, bring criminals to justice and significantly reduce the fear of crime, so improving the quality of life for many members of society.

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